Spork diet: School using it to reduce its waste size

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Ojai Valley News photo by Andra Belknap
 Keiya Moreno (left) and Charlotte Boyce-Prukop make use of Mira Monte's new cutlery during lunchtime April 11.
Andra Belknap, Ojai Valley News reporter
Remember sporks? The plastic spoon/fork hybrid accompanies many a school lunch. 
Mira Monte Elementary School has decided to dispense with the ubiquitous plastic cutlery and allow students to use the real thing (except for the knives) as part of a new waste management strategy.
According to Mira Monte Principal Katherine White, the move has decreased waste at the school, enhanced the campus recycling program and saved money.
The new, metal cutlery was donated by parents and funded by the Parent Teacher Organization, said White.
Instead of unwrapping a plastic spork packet containing the utensil, napkin, and straw, students now pick the utensils they need and deposit them in a bucket of water when they are finished.
The elimination of straws, in particular, has eliminated a great deal of trash on campus.
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Ojai Valley News photo by Andra Belknap
Mira Monte student Aren Mejia examines a worm found in the school's worm bin.
“We used to joke about how we were growing little straws in the grass area because they were almost impossible to pick up,” said White. “They'd get partially buried in the grass and you could stand back and kind of look at the lawn and see all these little pieces of plastic all over the place.”
Mira Monte worked with E.J. Harrison & Sons and Ventura County to establish new waste practices for the 2016-2017 school year. 
“The principal wanted to hit the ground running,” said Lisa McCullough, a Ventura County environmental resource analyst.
Representatives from the county and E.J. Harrison & Sons joined Mira Monte students during their lunch hour for one week in August, instructing students how to separate food waste, recycling and trash, while tossing their utensils into a separate bucket.
“Their recycling is absolutely increasing, thereby offsetting trash disposal,” said McCullough.
Cali Piccirillo, a Food for Thought Ojai employee, spends Tuesdays at Mira Monte, helping students and staff move food scraps to the school’s worm bin while supervising work in the school garden.
Thanks to funding from the Harriet H. Samuelsson Foundation, Food for Thought has a weekly presence at each of the Ojai Unified School District's (OUSD) five elementary school garden programs.
Mira Monte students are particularly fond of the worm bin — one student even offered his half-finished apple to the worms April 11.
And Mira Monte isn’t the only OUSD school working to reduce waste.
Meiners Oaks Elementary School diverts 87 percent of its trash from the landfill, said teacher Janis Duncan, through the use of compostable materials and a school-wide recycling program.
The 2016-2017 school year marked the beginning of Mira Monte’s cutlery program, but not the first time they tried to establish it.
“We attempted this (approximately) five years ago. Shortly after that, the dishwasher broke,” said White.
“We took all the silverware that had been donated at that time and we made art out of it,” she said, recalling wind chimes made from forks and spoons.
The dishwasher has since been repaired with OUSD funding.
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